20 April 2019

Ghana: Rapper-Turned-Director Taps Traditional Themes in 1st Film

A new film called “The Burial of Kojo” is a tale of family tensions with an overlay of magical realism. Set in Ghana, it is first feature from Samuel “Blitz” Bazawule, an Ghana-born musician and director who wanted to avoid the cliches of many films set in Africa, themes of war and famine.

Bazawule maintained creative control of the project by using the crowd-funding site Kickstarter, and he hired a Ghanaian cast and local crew. The Burial of Kojo is now reaching a global audience on Netflix.

Bazawule lives in Brooklyn but says the story is reminiscent of the tales that he heard as a child in Ghana. It concerns a girl, Esi, her father, Kojo, and his brother, Kwabena.

“One of the brothers goes missing on a mining expedition,” Bazawule explains, “and his daughter has to go on the magical journey to rescue him.” The quest lands Esi in a dreamlike world.

Rapper and filmmaker

Bazawule, known as Blitz from his days as a rapper, wanted to move from musical to visual storytelling, and this film includes both. He wrote its script and composed the film’s soundtrack. With several short films already under his belt, this was his feature debut.

The project was initially self-funded, and he completed the film by raising $78,000 through the website Kickstarter. That “gave us the autonomy that we needed,” Bazawule said. “We didn’t have anyone looking over our shoulder, we didn’t have anyone telling us what to do, what not to do. It was always us deciding with ourselves, does this make sense for this narrative?”

Showing on Netflix

The film is being shown on the streaming service Netflix as part of a distribution deal with ARRAY, a Hollywood company founded by filmmaker Ava DuVernay, that highlights the work of filmmakers of color and women directors.

“Netflix is in 190 countries, so that’s a lot of places where you can find beautiful work,” said ARRAY’s Tilane Jones.

It’s good for movie lovers, Bazawule added, and international filmmakers are also finding an audience.

“You build credibility for the stories that you’re telling,” he said, with fresh faces and new voices bringing art from countries like Ghana to the screen.

Ghana

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